I caught the pilot of No Ordinary Family at Comic-Con. It’s a four-member superteam-as-family pattern that can be seen as coming from Fantastic Four via The Incredibles. Don’t call it a rip=off , though – after all, this is an ABC TV series, and ABC is a division of Disney – who now owns both The Incredibles and The Fantastic Four. Can’t rip yourself off.
Some of the Fantastic Four got powers that reflect their personalities – the Thing and the Human Torch both reflect that, but it’s harder to find that intent in the Invisible Girl and Mr. Fantastic. With the Incredibles, it’s all about the powers reflecting their basic nature. With this new show, they’re going a different way – the powers don’t reflect who they are, but rather are exactly what they need, making up for their individual weaknesses and problems.
As a writer, it is tempting to get snarky over that particular move (“gee willikers, nothing fuels good drama like removing characters’ weaknesses!”), but to be fair the pilot is more of a “hey, it’s fun to have powers!” exercise than any real effort at conflict. Michael Chiklis – who to me, as a non-The Shield watcher, is still primarily the guy who starred in the best time-traveling-Bob-Woodward- talks-to-the-ghost-of-John-Belushi pic ever made, although he acquitted himself well as Ben Grimm – plays the somewhat shlubby husband with the far more pretty and successful wife in Julie Benz, following the modern sitcom tradition of couples. They have two teen kids. They all get exposed to a mysterious substance, and bam, the shlubby guy who has felt crushed by the world gets strength and invulnerability, the wife who doesn’t have enough time to do everything gets superspeed, the dumb kid gets superintellect and the socially awkward kid gets telepathy.
Oh, and some villain gets powers from the same source. Because, you see, that’s the only way that Hollywood knows how to do it. They think the work has a lot more grace if you generate hero and villain from the same source. That’s why the first Iron Man movie is the same as the recent Hulk movie is the same as various other attempts. They do not see that all that does is paint an inherently bleak worldview, that there is no net good to be generated, because anything which generates good also generates evil in approximately equal quantities, and the best the good can do is to stop its matched set of evil. In this case, the series makes no pretense of realism – folks do plenty of stupid superpower testing simply because it makes for interesting shots (the “lets jump from a tall building and see if my powers keep me from splattering on the sidewalk” sort of thing), so if you’re not afraid of inserting wild elements, make up a wild source for villainy, why don’t you?
The crowd at Comic Con was supportive of the pilot (understandable, going in there pumped up, having a shared experience, and having the cast and creative crew in the house), but it felt by the numbers, expected, and not as fun as it wanted to be. I won’t shy away from looking in on it if I’ve got nothing else to watch, but I don’t intend to follow it.